Liquid Telecom has teamed up with French IoT networking specialist Sigfox to build out an IoT network in Kenya that, according to a senior executive, will cover 85% of that country's population within the next 12 months and help to significantly expand the country's IoT ecosystem.
Liquid's CTO Ben Roberts tells Connecting Africa that several Sigfox base stations have already been deployed in Nairobi and that most of the city is now covered by the low power wide area network (LPWAN) signal emitted by those base stations. In the coming weeks, the Liquid Telecom team will deploy further Sigfox base stations in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nanyuki and cover 98% of Kenya's 45 million-strong population within a year: "This will change the possibilities for IoT in Kenya… it is all SIM card-based services currently," notes the CTO.
That means Safaricom, which has been developing multiple IoT services that would run over its licensed spectrum, will be the key rival. (See Safaricom Pumps KSh200M Into Telecom Test Lab, Safaricom Reports Profit Rise as CEO Returns and Safaricom Unveils Marathon IoT Effort.)
Roberts says he examined all the possibilities for an IoT rollout in Kenya but that Sigfox, which already has its technology deployed in 45 countries around the world and which supplies the base stations (relatively small boxes that can attach to buildings), end point modules and supporting management software, was a good fit for Liquid Telecom as the technology is all pre-integrated, requires no technical development by the Liquid team, uses unlicensed spectrum (868MHz) and is relatively easy to deploy.
"We have a lot of physical infrastructure in Kenya -- fiber running to buildings [about 4,000] and towers [about 800] -- so we can fit the base stations in existing locations. There is no site acquisition to be done so it is not very complex," says the CTO, who expects to deploy about 800 Sigfox base stations in total to achieve the 85% population coverage.
Liquid Telecom will run the network, Sigfox will provide the (proprietary) technology and there will be "some sort of revenue share arrangement," notes the executive, adding that the two companies will work together for training and market education, working with tech hubs, universities and the ecosystem of local developers who can develop applications and Sigfox-enabled end user devices. "IoT is still in the early adoption phase… we've been excited by the interest since we announced the launch" last week, says the CTO.
Roberts estimates there are approximately 1 million IoT connections in Kenya currently, split evenly between solar panel connectivity and vehicle tracking. He believes there are many possibilities for IoT in the country, starting with the tracking of "low value assets" such as pallets, containers, bicycles… even cows. With low-cost sensors that have a long battery life, the possibilities are almost endless, he says, noting particular early interest from the water utility and food sectors.
Liquid Telecom CTO Ben Roberts.
Roberts has ambitious targets: He would like to see 45 million IoT connections across Kenya within three years.
So there's a lot of work to be done to stimulate the market and help the development of use cases and specific applications but the Kenyan market, known for its innovation and adoption of new technologies, looks like a good place for Liquid Telecom to start its efforts in building a pan-African IoT network.
So what, or where, is next? "We are already working with Sigfox's South African partner," which is SqwidNET, "and in total have operations in 12 countries across Africa – I can't say any more than that."
Those countries include Botswana, DRC, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and more: If the network rollout and service uptake in Kenya goes well, expect to hear about further Liquid/Sigfox activity across Africa.
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading for Connecting Africa.